A one way ticket, an unknown sender.

DARPA’s new project ICARUS stands for Inbound Controlled Air-Releasable Unrecoverable Systems, in other words, drones that self-destruct after performing their task. It grew out of research carried out under the agency’s Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) program, which made electronic components that can destroy themselves on a molecular level.

There are a wide range of benevolent applications and reasons for what we’re going to call “disappearing drones” including delivering food, medicine, water, and supplies to isolated communities and  military units in the field. With this technology, our drones will no longer fall into enemy hands once they’ve completed their task. It would also reduce costs and environmental and logistical problems by eliminating the need to bring them home again and dispose of them. (Though we might wonder what environmental damage might be done by thousands of disintegrating drones.)

The technology itself doesn’t pose many ethical issues, though new policies will have to be evaluated once we see just what exactly is left behind after the controlled destruction and how they can carry out clandestine operations. The issues come in when we find our how the technology can be potentially misused. If a drone disintegrates into nearly nothing after it’s done doing it’s job (particularly if that job is nefarious, like delivering a virus), there will be no way to identify the culprit; convenient for our military but not for law enforcement trying to track criminals.

Resources:
Vanishing Acts: A Call for Disappearing Delivery Vehicles (DARPA)
DARPA’s ICARUS Project Aims to Build Disappearing Drones (NBC News)
DARPA Wants to Create Delivery Vehicles That Vanish After Dropping Off Their Payload (Slate)
The Military’s ICARUS Project Wants To Build Delivery Drones That Vanish Into Thin Air (Tech Times)
Poof! Futuristic Flying Vehicles Could Vanish After Deliveries (Live Science)